Settling down to the first act of Smack Family Robinson at the Rose Theatre in
Kingston I assumed I would be watching a humorous but inoffensive comedy with a few swear words and perhaps one sexual reference. Incorrect, but it ended up being a hugely entertaining but grotesque parade of a play.
The Robinson family lead a comfortable life in Petersham, continuing the lucrative family business of drug dealing. The two-hour play unravels in their plush white leather sitting room, with Mr and Mrs Robinson regularly refilling their goblets with wine from barrels.
The family is weighed down with one problem after the other. Mrs Robinson confides in her husband: “Gavin love, I’m worried about our daughter. She’s never been pissed, doesn’t do drugs and doesn’t smoke: she’s not normal. When I was 18 I didn’t call it a good night until I was on first name terms
with the ambulance staff.” Later on, the nurturing mother says to her daughter: “Cora, you look like you’ve got a cold coming, you need vitamin C. I’ll go and fix you a vodka and orange’.” I laugh from shock and sheer enjoyment.
The second act, however, really was harrowing. In one scene, Sean, one of the two sons, begins to have a delicate wank in the living room. His parents soon walk in and shout ‘WHAT THE FUCK?”, but of course it’s because his shoes are on the carpet rather than because he’s shooting up with his belt round his thigh.
From this climax the play goes downhill. What was a hilarious albeit crude black comedy suddenly turns sour and starts to take itself seriously. As a result of many drug deals gone wrong and a discovery that Mrs Robinson had
killed her son’s wife with pure heroin, the son kills his mother and knocks out his father, and his brother tries to kill his sister.
At this point any humour has left the stage and we are left with elegiac lines such as “all we wanted was a bit of colour in a black and white world”. The play doesn’t suit this attempted darker side and it is left unclear whether director Richard Bean was attempting to transmit a deep message or simply make us laugh.
I was also unsettled by the way the play’s black humour had turned serious problems of drugs and corrupted families into a base farce. Then again, that has always been the problem with black comedy, and this play has been very
well received overall. Despite its unfortunate ending, Smack Family Robinson is a highly entertaining and thought-provoking drama.